From Wikiquote
(Redirected from Act)
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Get good counsel before you begin: and when you have decided, act promptly. ~ Sallust
The man who acts is often reduced to contenting himself with that is nearly so because he would never arrive at the end of his design if he wished to perfect every detail. He must constantly rely on ideas that he has not had the leisure to fathom, for it is much more the timeliness of the idea he makes use if than its rigorous exactness that helps him. ... In centuries in which almost everyone acts, one is therefore generally brought to attach an excessive value to rapid sparks and superficial conceptions of the intellect and, on the contrary, to deprecate immoderately its profound, slow work. ~ Alexis de Tocqueville

Action is an effort of performing something.

Arranged alphabetically by author or source:
A · B · C · D · E · F · G · H · I · J · K · L · M · N · O · P · Q · R · S · T · U · V · W · X · Y · Z · Bible · Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations · Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers · See also · External links




  • Action implies motion; but there may be motion, as in a clock, where, properly speaking, there is no agent. Many motions necessary to life are continually going on in the human body; as those of the heart, lungs, and arteries: but these are not human actions, because man is not the cause of them. For the same reason, breathing, and the motion of the eyelids, are not actions; because, though we may act for a little time in suspending them, for the purpose of seeing or hearing more accurately, they commonly go on without any care of ours; and, while they do so, we are, in regard to them, not active, but passive. ... All action is the work of an agent, that is, of a being who acts; and every being who acts is the beginner of that motion which constitutes the action.
  • Of every noble action the intent
    Is to give worth reward, vice punishment.
  • Fate quello che noi diciamo e non quello che noi facciamo.
    • Do as we say, not as we do.
    • Giovanni Boccaccio, The Decameron, or Ten Days' Entertainment (c, 1350 [1820 reprint]), Third Day, Seventh Story, p. 207.
  • That low man seeks a little thing to do,
       Sees it and does it.
    This high man, with a great thing to pursue,
       Dies ere he knows it.
  • Put his shoulder to the wheel.
    • Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621), Part II, Sect. 1, Memb. 2.


  • Hadst thou not Greek enough to understand thus much: The end of man is an action, and not a thought, though it were the noblest.
  • Our grand business undoubtedly is, not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand.
    • Thomas Carlyle, "Signs of the Times" (1829), in Critical and Miscellaneous Essays (1827–1855).
  • Ye been oure lord, dooth with youre owene thyng Right as yow list.
    • Geoffrey Chaucer, "Clerk’s Tale", lines 652–53, The Canterbury Tales (1957 edition), p. 108. An early version of "Do your own thing".
  • It is better to light one candle than curse the darkness.
    • Motto of the Christopher Society, the sentiment of which is an old Chinese proverb; reported in Bergen Evans, Dictionary of Quotations (1968), p. 87, no. 7. Paraphrased by Adlai Stevenson, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, in a tribute to Eleanor Roosevelt after her death (November 7, 1962): "I have lost more than a beloved friend. I have lost an inspiration. She would rather light a candle than curse the darkness, and her glow has warmed the world"; reported by The New York Times (November 8, 1962), p. 34.
  • A man who waits to believe in action before acting is anything you like, but he’s not a man of action. It is as if a tennis player before returning a ball stopped to think about his views of the physical and mental advantages of tennis. You must act as you breathe.
    • Georges Clemenceau, Clemenceau, The Events of His Life as Told by Himself to His Former Secretary, Jean Martet (1930) as translated by Milton Waldman; Conversation with Jean Martet (18 December 1927), Chapter 11, page 167.
  • When a man asks himself what is meant by action he proves that he isn't a man of action. Action is a lack of balance. In order to act you must be somewhat insane. A reasonably sensible man is satisfied with thinking.
    • Georges Clemenceau, Clemenceau, The Events of His Life as Told by Himself to His Former Secretary, Jean Martet (1930) as translated by Milton Waldman; Conversation with Jean Martet (1 January 1928), Chapter 12.
  • Our actions must clothe us with an immortality loathsome or glorious.
  • It is better to wear out than to rust out.
    • Richard Cumberland, reply when told he would wear himself out; reported in George Horne's sermon, On the Duty of Contending for the Truth (July 1, 1786). London: F. C. and J. Rivington, 1809, p. 24.


  • Actions of the last age are like almanacs of the last year.
    • Sir John Denham, The Sophy: A Tragedy (1641), Act II, scene 1.


  • For strong souls
    Live like fire-hearted suns; to spend their strength
    In furthest striving action.
  • Tempests occasionally shake our dwellings and dissipate our commerce; but they scourge before them the lazy elements, which without them would stagnate into pestilence.
    • Thomas Erskine, speech for the defendant in Rex v. John Stockdale (9 December 1798), in Speeches of Lord Erskine While at the Bar, edited by James Lambert High (Chicago: Callaghan and Cockcroft, 1871), Vol. II, p. 69.


  • Let's meet and either do or die.
    • John Fletcher, The Island Princess (c. 1620; published 1647), Act II, scene 2.
  • Man is his own star, and the soul that can
    Render an honest and a perfect man,
    Commands all light, all influence, all fate.
    Nothing to him falls early or too late.
    Our acts, our angels are, or good or ill,
    Our fatal shadows that walk by us still.
    • John Fletcher, The Honest Man's Fortune (published 1647), epilogue, line 37.


  • Letting I dare not wait upon I would is a mug's game, and those who play it usually get mugged.
    • Robert Heller, British management journalist and author. 'The Truth About Decisions', ch.3, The Decision Makers (1989).
  • If action, however violent, evolves from character, there is no higher literary expression and the ultimate crystallization of character is likely to lie in physical rather than psychological action.
  • A man that's fond precociously of stirring,
       Must be a spoon.
  • Fungar vice cotis, acutum
    Reddere quæ ferrum valet, exsors ipsa secandi.
    • I will perform the function of a whetstone, which is able to restore sharpness to iron, though itself unable to cut.
    • Horace, Ars Poetica (18 BC), 304.
  • The point I wish to make is this: McKinley gave Rowan a letter to be delivered to Garcia; Rowan took the letter & did not ask, "Where is he at?" By the Eternal! there is a man whose form should be cast in deathless bronze and the statue placed in every college of the land. It is not book-learning young men need, nor instruction about this and that, but a stiffening of the vertebrae which will cause them to be loyal to a trust, to act promptly, concentrate their energies: do the thing — "Carry a message to Garcia!"
  • If men will not act for themselves, what will they do when the benefit of their effort is for all?
  • A good man deliberating which of several actions proposed he shall choose, regards and compares the material goodness of them, and then is determined by his moral sense invariably preferring that which appears most conducive to the happiness and virtue of mankind.


  • The highest function of philosophy is to enforce the attitude of meditation and therewithal restrain the excessive volubility of the tongue. To us it seems that the reflective thinker wins his greatest victories when by what he says he compels us to recognise the relative insignificance of anything he can say. His task is not to capture Reality, but to free it from captivity.
  • Waiting for power to move to its inevitable collapse is suicidal for all concerned. Blacks and other Third World peoples have the very imminent prospect of genocidal tactics to contend with, and we can now all see that the modern industrial state, motivated by exclusive groups of capitalist masters, cannot regulate itself to make possible an inclusive production and distribution of goods, or production without a massive waste of resources and destruction of all that stands about. The debate ends, the action begins. It is not question of the necessity of violence, but of how to organize it.
  • She could never rid herself of the sense that unhappiness was a state of disease – of suffering as opposed to doing. To "do" – it hardly mattered what – would therefore be an escape, perhaps in some degree a remedy.


  • Things don't just happen, they are made to happen.
    • John F. Kennedy, Speech given at the Arkansas State Fairground, Little Rock, United States of America, October 3, 1963. Quoted in John F. Kennedy in Quotations: A Topical Dictionary, with Sources (2013), McFarland, entry 1729 ISBN 1586486381.


  • I have always thought the actions of men the best interpreters of their thoughts.
    • John Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689), Book 1, Chapter 3, §3.
  • Let us, then, be up and doing.
    With a heart for any fate;
    Still achieving, still pursuing,
    Learn to labor and to wait.
  • With useless endeavour
    Forever, forever,
    Is Sisyphus rolling
    His stone up the mountain!
  • Every man feels instinctively that all the beautiful sentiments in the world weigh less than a single lovely action.
    • James Russell Lowell, Literary Essays, Vol. II (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1890), "Rousseau and the Sentimentalists", p. 243.


  • Existence was given us for action, rather than indolent and aimless contemplation; our wrath is determined by the good deeds we do, rather than by the fine emotions we feel. They greatly mistake, who suppose that God cares for no other pursuit than devotion.
    • Elias Lyman Magoon, Proverbs for the People (Boston: Gould, Kendall and Lincoln, 1849), pp. 178–179.
  • It is no use for one to stand in the shade and complain that the sun does not shine upon him. He must come out resolutely on the hot and dusty field where all are compelled to antagonize with stubborn difficulties, and pertinaciously strive until he conquers, if he would deserve to be crowned.
    • Elias Lyman Magoon, Proverbs for the People (Boston: Gould, Kendall and Lincoln, 1849), pp. 191–192.
  • It is well to think well. It is divine to act well.
    • Horace Mann, Thoughts Selected from the Writings of Horace Mann, ed. Mary Mann (Boston: H. B. Fuller and Company, 1867) p. 199.
  • He nothing common did, or mean,
    Upon that memorable scene.
    • Andrew Marvell, "An Horatian Ode Upon Cromwell's Return from Ireland" (1650), line 57.
  • So much one man can do,
    That does both act and know.
    • Andrew Marvell, "An Horatian Ode Upon Cromwell's Return from Ireland" (1650), line 75.


  • The man of action is not the headstrong fool who rushes into danger with no thought for himself, but the man who puts into practice the things he knows.
  • Our rulers at the present day, with their machines and their preachers, are all occupied in putting into our heads the preposterous notion that activity rather than contemplation is the object of life.


  • And if God had willed, He could have made you (of) one single people, but He causes to stray whom He wills and guides whom He wills. And you will surely be account for all your actions.
  • On the Day when their tongues, their hands, and their feet will bear witness against them as to their actions.


  • It is some time since so few have been asked to do so much for so many on so little.
    • Elfan B. Rees, "The Refugee and the United Nations", International Conciliation (June 1953), p. 281. Dr. Rees, secretary of the United Nations Commission of the Churches on International Affairs, was speaking of the U.N. budget designated to assist World War II refugees.


  • Things done well,
    And with a care, exempt themselves from fear;
    Things done without example, in their issue
    Are to be fear'd.
  • If it were done, when 'tis done, then 'twere well
    It were done quickly.
  • From this moment,
    The very firstlings of my heart shall be
    The firstlings of my hand. And even now,
    To crown my thoughts with acts, be it thought and done.
  • But I remember now
    I am in this earthly world; where, to do harm,
    Is often laudable; to do good, sometime,
    Accounted dangerous folly.
  • Heaven ne'er helps the men who will not act.
    • Sophocles, Fragment 288. (Plumptre's translation, as cited in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 1906).
    • Variant: Heaven never helps the man who will not act.
  • If you keep doing what you've always done, you'll keep getting what you've always gotten.


  • Theirs not to make reply,
    Theirs not to reason why,
    Theirs but to do and die.
  • Nothing is more necessary to the cultivation of the advanced sciences or of the elevated portion of sciences than meditation, and there is nothing less fit for meditation than the interior of a democratic society. One does not encounter there, as in aristocratic peoples, a numerous class that stays at rest because it finds itself well-off and another than does not move because it despairs of being better off. Everyone is agitated: some want to attain power, others to take possession of wealth. In the midst of this universal tumult, the repeated collision of contrary interests, the continual advance of men toward fortune, where does one find the calm necessary to the profound combinations of the intellect? how does each man bring his thought to a stop at such and such a point, when everything moves around him and he himself is carried along and tossed about every day in the impetuous current that swirls all things along?
  • Not only do men living in democratic societies give themselves over to meditation with difficulty, but they naturally have little esteem for it. The democratic social state and institutions bring most men to act continually; yet the habits of mind suited to action are not always suited to thought. The man who acts is often reduced to contenting himself with that is nearly so because he would never arrive at the end of his design if he wished to perfect every detail. He must constantly rely on ideas that he has not had the leisure to fathom, for it is much more the timeliness of the idea he makes use if than its rigorous exactness that helps him; and all in all, there is less risk for him in making use of some false principle than in wasting his time establishing the truth of all his principles. It is not by long and learned demonstrations that the world is led. There, the quick look at a particular fact, the daily study of the changing passions of the crowd, the chance of the moment and the skill to seize it decide affairs.
In centuries in which almost everyone acts, one is therefore generally brought to attach an excessive value to rapid sparks and superficial conceptions of the intellect and, on the contrary, to deprecate immoderately its profound, slow work.
  • Any action is often better than no action, especially if you have been stuck in an unhappy situation for a long time. If it is a mistake, at least you learn something, in which case it's no longer a mistake. If you remain stuck, you learn nothing. Is fear preventing you from taking action? Acknowledge the fear, watch it, take your attention into it, be fully present with it. Doing so cuts the link between the fear and your thinking. Don't let the fear rise up into your mind. Use the power of the Now. Fear cannot prevail against it.
    If there is truly nothing that you can do to change your here and now, and you can't remove yourself from the situation, then accept your here and now totally by dropping all inner resistance. The false, unhappy self that loves feeling miserable, resentful, or sorry for itself can then no longer survive. This is called surrender. Surrender is not weakness. There is great strength in it. Only a surrendered person has spiritual power.




  • A slender acquaintance with the world, must convince every man, that actions, not words, are the true criterion of the attachment of friends; and that the most liberal professions of good-will are far from being the surest marks of it.
    • George Washington, attributed in John Frederick Schroeder, ed. Maxims of Washington (1855).
  • We cannot think first and act afterwards. From the moment of birth we are immersed in action and can only fitfully guide it by taking thought.
  • Be thy best thoughts to work divine addressed;
    Do something,— do it soon — will all thy might;
    An angel's wing would droop if long at rest,
    And God Himself inactive were no longer blessed.
    • Carlos Wilcox, quoted in Three Thousand Selected Quotations From Brilliant Writers (1909) by Josiah H. Gilbert, p. 3m
  • But man, being, as I have said, essentially an active being, he must find in activity his joy, as well as his duty and glory. And labor, like every thing else that is good, is its own exceeding great reward.
    • Edwin Percy Whipple, "Loafing and Laboring", The North American Review, Vol. CLIII, No. 416 (July 1891), p. 34.
    • Sometimes misattributed to Henry Benjamin Whipple and misquoted as: "Man, being essentially active, must find in activity his joy, as well as his beauty and glory; and labor, like every thing else that is good, is its own reward."
  • Action is transitory—a step, a blow—
    The motion of a muscle—this way or that—
    'Tis done; and in the after-vacancy
    We wonder at ourselves like men betrayed.


  • And all may do what has by man been done.
    • Edward Young, Night Thoughts (1742-1745), Night VI, line 611.
The Bible on Wikisource.
  • Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.
  • Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.

Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922)

Quotes reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 6-9.
  • What's done we partly may compute,
    But know not what's resisted.
  • The best way to keep good acts in memory is to refresh them with new.
  • He is at no end of his actions blest
    Whose ends will make him greatest and not best.
  • Quod est, eo decet uti: et quicquid agas, agere pro viribus.
    • What one has, one ought to use: and whatever he does he should do with all his might.
    • Cicero, De Senectute, IX.
  • Zeus hates busybodies and those who do too much.
  • A fiery chariot, borne on buoyant pinions,
    Sweeps near me now! I soon shall ready be
    To pierce the ether's high, unknown dominions,
    To reach new spheres of pure activity!
  • Do well and right, and let the world sink.
  • Let thy mind still be bent, still plotting, where,
    And when, and how thy business may be done.
    Slackness breeds worms; but the sure traveller,
    Though he alights sometimes still goeth on.
  • The shortest answer is doing.
  • Attempt the end, and never stand to doubt;
    Nothing's so hard but search will find it out.
  • It is not book learning young men need, nor instruction about this and that, but a stiffening of the vertebræ which will cause them to be loyal to a trust, to act promptly, concentrate their energies, do a thing—"carry a message to Garcia."
    • Elbert Hubbard, Carry a Message to Garcia, Philistine (March, 1900). (Lieut. Col. Andrew S. Rowan carried the message to Garcia).
  • Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare.
    • Japanese proverb, as quoted in Civilization's Quotations : Life's Ideal (2002) by Richard Alan Krieger, p. 280.
  • Attack is the reaction; I never think I have hit hard unless it rebounds.
  • Quelque éclatante que soit une action, elle ne doit pas passer pour grande, lorsqu'elle n'est pas l'effet d'un grand dessein.
    • However resplendent an action may be, it should not be accounted great unless it is the result of a great design.
    • François de La Rochefoucauld, Maximes (1665–1678), 160.
  • No action, whether foul or fair,
    Is ever done, but it leaves somewhere
    A record, written by fingers ghostly,
    As a blessing or a curse, and mostly
    In the greater weakness or greater strength
    Of the acts which follow it.
  • The good one, after every action, closes
    His volume, and ascends with it to God.
    The other keeps his dreadful day-book open
    Till sunset, that we may repent; which doing,
    The record of the action fades away,
    And leaves a line of white across the page
    Now if my act be good, as I believe,
    It cannot be recalled. It is already
    Sealed up in heaven, as a good deed accomplished.
    The rest is yours.
  • Trust no future, howe'er pleasant!
    Let the dead past bury its dead!
    Act,—act in the living Present!
    Heart within and God o'erhead.
  • Nil actum credens dum quid superesset agendum.
    • Thinking that nothing was done, if anything remained to do.
    • Lucan, Pharsalia, II. 657.
  • Ce qui est faict ne se peult desfaire.
  • Push on,—keep moving.
  • Ferreus assiduo consumitur anulus usu.
    • The iron ring is worn out by constant use.
    • Ovid, Ars Amatoris, Book I. 473.
  • Aut petis, aut urgues ruiturum, Sisyphe, saxum.
    • Either you pursue or push, O Sisyphus, the stone destined to keep rolling.
    • Ovid, Metamorphoses, 4, 459.
  • What the Puritans gave the world was not thought, but action.
  • Not always actions show the man; we find
    Who does a kindness is not therefore kind.
  • Prius quam incipias consulto, et ubi consulueris mature facto opus est.
    • Get good counsel before you begin: and when you have decided, act promptly.
    • Sallust, Catilina. I.
  • Wer gar zu viel bedenkt, wird wenig leisten.
    • He that is overcautious will accomplish little.
    • Friedrich Schiller, Wilhelm Tell, III. 1. 72.
  • Only the actions of the just
    Smell sweet and blossom in their dust.
    • James Shirley, Contention of Ajax and Ulysses, scene 3, line 23. ("In the dust" in Percy's Reliques. Misquoted "Ashes of the dust" on old tombstone at St. Augustine, Florida).
  • It's a different animal. The action movie requires much more physical dedication and focus, you have to be careful because of potential injuries and so it's very hard and you have to be cautious, while the drama taxes the emotions, and so if you're using some past experienced trauma and try to use it for a scene it might move you beyond expectations.
  • Rightness expresses of actions, what straightness does of lines; and there can no more be two kinds of right action than there can be two kinds of straight line.
  • The sweet remembrance of the just
    Shall flourish when he sleeps in dust.
  • Dicta et facta.
    • Said and done. Done as soon as said.
    • Terence, Eunuchus, 5. 4. 19.
  • Actum ne agas.
    • Do not do what is already done.
    • Terence, Phormio, II. 3. 72.
  • Action is transitory, a step, a blow,
    The motion of a muscle—this way or that.

Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895)

Quotes reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895).
  • Activity in the kingdom of God augments the power of spiritual life, and deepens the consciousness of religious realities.
  • Look around you, and you will behold the universe full of active powers. Action is, so to speak, the genius of nature. By motion and exertion, the system of being is preserved in vigor. By its different parts always acting in subordination one to another, the perfection of the whole is carried on. The heavenly bodies perpetually revolve. Day and night incessantly repeat their appointed course. Continual operations are going on in the earth and in the waters. Nothing stands still. All is alive and stirring throughout the universe. In the midst of this animated and busy scene, is man alone to remain idle in his place? Belongs it to him to be the sole inactive and slothful being in the creation, when in so many various ways he might improve his own nature; might advance the glory of the God who made him; and contribute his part in the general good?
  • Napoleon was the most effective man in modern times — some will say of all times. The secret of his character was, that while his plans were more vast, more various, and, of course, more difficult than those of other men, he had the talent at the same time, to fill them up with perfect promptness and precision, in every particular of execution.
  • What is done is done; has already blended itself with the boundless, ever living, ever working universe, and will also work there for good or evil, openly or secretly, throughout all time.
  • It is much easier to settle a point than to act on it.
  • Consider and act with reference to the true ends of existence. This world is but the vestibule of an immortal life. Every action of our lives touches on some chord that will vibrate in eternity.
  • I have lived to know that the secret of happiness is never to allow your energies to stagnate.
  • Let us remember that Elijah's God was with him only while he was occupied in noble and effectual services. When thus engaged, he exulted in the conscious majesty of a life which had upon it the stamp and signature of Divine power.
  • All mental discipline and symmetrical growth are from activity of the mind under the yoke of the will or personal power.
  • The essential elements of giving are power and love — activity and affection — and the consciousness of the race testifies that in the high and appropriate exercise of these is a blessedness greater than any other.
  • The life of man is made up of action and endurance; and life is fruitful in the ratio in which it is laid out in noble action or in patient perseverance.
  • The history of the Church of Christ from the days of the Apostles has been a history of spiritual movements.
  • Haste thee on from grace to glory,
    Armed by faith and winged by prayer,
    Heaven's eternal day's before thee;
    God's own hand shall guide thee there.
  • I have never heard any thing about the resolutions of the disciples, but a great deal about the Acts of the Apostles.
  • Time is short, your obligations are infinite. Are your houses regulated, your children instructed, the afflicted relieved, the poor visited, the work of piety accomplished?
  • Accuse not Nature, she hath done her part; do thou but thine.
  • When I read the life of such a man as Paul, how I blush to think how sickly and dwarfed Christianity is at the present time, and how many hundreds there are who never think of working for the Son of God and honoring Christ.
  • I do not say the mind gets informed by action, — bodily action; but it does get earnestness and strength by it, and that nameless something that gives a man the mastership of his faculties.
  • Unselfish and noble acts are the most radiant epochs in the biography of souls.

See also

Wikipedia has an article about: